Stop Wasting Everyone’s Time and Quit Already

Gary Cosby Jr.-The Tuscaloosa News

The rules of baseball are in a state of evolution in 2023, and the college game is no different: This season, the SEC is going to have a mercy rule. If one team leads by 10 or more runs after seven innings, the game is over. Run rules are common in amateur baseball — Little League has had one for years — and college baseball is a friendly interscholastic amateur competition… man, I almost got that out with a straight face.

No, the SEC is the most competitive, highly scrutinized baseball league in the country apart from MLB itself. Even in the upper minors, winning isn’t everything. In the SEC, it just means… well, you know the line. And this league is instituting a run rule?

I’m the kind of stubborn old crank who despises mercy rules, seven-inning doubleheaders, and zombie runners in the higher levels of competition. Leagues where the object is to win, not learn or hang out. And the SEC is definitely one of those. But as a pragmatist, watching baseball in 2023, I get it. In fact, my primary objection to the 10-run rule is not that it’s bad for the sport, but that it gives coaches a convenient excuse to avoid the real solution to the problem the run rule is trying to solve.

You should just be able to forfeit.

Of course, coaches at any level can forfeit games now. Rule 7.03(a)(3) of the MLB rulebook says a game maybe forfeited to the opposing team when a team “Refuses to continue play during a game unless the game has been suspended or terminated by the umpire-in-chief,” which is of interest because I’m not sure I knew the official name for the home plate ump was “umpire-in-chief.” They should refer to the outfield umps during the playoffs as “umpires-without-portfolio.”

But I digress. Teams can have a game forfeited by employing “tactics palpably designed to delay or shorten the game,” according to 7.03(a)(2); “willfully and persistently violat[ing] any rules of the game” after being warned, according to 7.03(a)(5); or “when a team is unable or refuses to place nine players on the field,” as per rule 7.03(b). All of those options sound like lots of fun. John McGraw would’ve had a field day.

The point is, when a team is getting its head caved in, there’s nothing in the rules right now preventing the manager from putting a stop to it. It’s just not the done thing.

And in most sports, there’s no reason for it to be. The reason to forfeit a game is to dispense with the pretense of the contest still being in the balance, and to avoid injury to star players. The other three most popular American sports — football, basketball, hockey — all have free substitutions and a clock. When the game is basically over, but not yet literally over, coaches can take their starters out and have their players dawdle around until the final whistle.

As you might have heard, baseball does not have a clock. It is turn-based. You have to keep going through the motions in order to end the game. (This, as I explained earlier in the offseason, has been a very profitable state of affairs for the likes of Jordan Lyles.) It’s the pitcher who keeps the game in motion, and in a cruel twist of fate — one of many in a sport defined by failure — it is the pitcher who is most physically imperiled by playing out the string.

What managers do, instead of forfeit, is use a position player to pitch. And they’re doing so with alarming frequency:

Look at that line. By going to Stathead and clicking the “Typically a position player” box, I discovered that position players registered 4.44 times more pitching appearances in 2022 than they had in 2017. At that rate, in 2027 we’ll have 3,555 position player pitching appearances in 2,430 major league games. In the early 2050s, we’ll cross the threshold of a million position player pitching appearances per season. The United Nations projects that by the mid-2080s the global population will peak at 10.4 billion. If position player pitching appearances proliferate as rapidly as they have in the past five years, in 2082 every one of those 10.4 billion humans will have to pitch in an MLB game an average of three and a half times per season. This isn’t sustainable.

In reality, a big part of that recent spike is due to Shohei Ohtani recovering from Tommy John surgery, as Baseball Reference counts two-way players as position players. But even counting two-way players, the most common use for a position player on the mound is as a mop-up reliever in a loss. Since the 1994-95 strike, teams that use a position player on the mound have a winning percentage of .143 in 825 games. If you remove Ohtani, Brooks Kieschnick, Rick Ankiel, Jared Walsh, Christian Bethancourt, and Hanser Alberto from the sample, that winning percentage drops to .034 — just 21 wins in 610 games in the past 28 seasons.

Nine of those 21 wins came in 2022, as teams started using position players to get the last few outs in games they led by laughable margins. (Alberto was something of a specialist in this role.) And it doesn’t always work. In 2020, only one team used a position player on the mound and won; the Marlins used outfielder Brett Eibner in the eighth inning while leading by six runs. Eibner recorded the first out of the inning, then walked the next two batters before allowing a three-run home run that turned a laugher back into a save situation.

A couple times a week now, a major league manager looks at the game situation and calls for a position player to pitch. That’s not literally raising the white flag, but we all know the connotation is the same.

So why can’t they just give up the pretense and forfeit?

America, and its sporting culture in particular, is big on hustle. What some people would call the grindset. I’d call it the Protestant work ethic, because if Hell were real I’d give Max Weber an atomic wedgie when I got there. It’s about effort, showing your work, triumphing through adversity. We value the struggle as much as the result, because by linking the two we justify all struggle, both necessary and extraneous.

Most of the time, that’s a good mindset to have in sports. Win the next pitch. Keep working through the pain. Without the ability to continue through struggles, an athlete will never know their true limits, let alone expand them. So yeah, dig deep for that extra gear while rounding third. Grit your teeth and do five more push-ups.

But sometimes, you’re losing 13-1 to the Orioles on a Wednesday night in September. It’s 11:30 PM local time, it’s cold, it just started to rain, and you’re about to hand the ball to your fourth outfielder, who may or may not be able to hit the strike zone because he hasn’t pitched in a competitive game since high school.

That’s not perseverance. That’s eyewash. Just quit already, you’re not fooling anyone.

In other turn-based sports, this is an accepted part of the sport. In cricket — and I apologize in advance if I bungle the lingo, as cricket is a ludicrous sport of which I know relatively little — the captain of a team might forego the last few wickets of his team’s innings (plural, thanks to the people who need extra vowels to spell “color” and “aluminum”) if he believes his team has scored enough runs to win and wants to make sure the full game gets played. (On rare occasions, the captain might declare his team’s innings closed if he’s involved in match fixing.)

Or how about curling? Remember when the American men’s team won Olympic gold in 2018? Their decisive match was technically won by forfeit, as the skip of the Swedish team conceded while it was still possible (though vanishingly unlikely) for his team to tie. That’s just part of the culture of the sport. Everyone knows, more or less, when the game is out of hand and it’s time to put the brooms away and hit the bar. A hopeless last stand in that case isn’t valiant, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. Even with an Olympic gold medal on the line.

Bringing that cultural norm over to baseball would imperil some statistical truths we’ve taken for granted, and all but ensure that some records would never be broken. But those truths have already been shaken by recent rule changes for extra innings; between that and the pitch clock, the “come on, let’s get this over with” lobby is gaining traction.

I doubt we’ll see an MLB manager, or even a major college head coach, concede a game formally anytime soon. That’s why the SEC instituted a mercy rule. Because you can’t just go up to the umpire-in-chief and say, “I quit.” You can only imply it so heavily everyone watching knows what you mean.

Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic,, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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1 year ago

Now that King of the Clowns Manfred has ruined extra innings, position players pitching is, for me, one of the few remaining delightful quirks of this wonderful game. I hope the “mercy” approach remains off limits for MLB.

1 year ago
Reply to  fartinyourface

Declaring the game a Draw after 12 innings (regular season only) would have been vastly preferable to Manfred’s Clownshow, if “something had to be done.”

Deal with it Murrika (and I am American myself), sometimes there’s no winner.

Even better, each team could have an MLB-supplied, rubber-armed knuckleballer who can pitch out the string (if/when the game goes to 13+ innings).

Doug Lampertmember
1 year ago

I doubt that there are actually 30 knucklaballers who can pitch at a major league level. Just call it a tie in the regular season.

In 1907 the opening game of the World Series ended in a tie, ties used to be a thing in baseball. Bring back traditional values! Bring ties back to the game!

1 year ago

Or better yet, in the spirit of this article, once the game reaches a certain inning, just allow the home team to concede the tie rather than coming to bat. Would be better than forcing the tie on both teams IMO, and far better than the zombie runner. (But still not as good as the system the sport employed for 150 years prior to 2020.)

1 year ago

Don’t even need 12 innings. I’ll die on the “no extra innings or OT in the regular season of any sport” hill. Just have ties.

After one season, fans will find something else to be outraged about. They always do.

Brian Reinhartmember
1 year ago
Reply to  fartinyourface

I wholeheartedly agree with (checks username) fartinyourface.

1 year ago
Reply to  Brian Reinhart

far + tiny + our + face ???


1 year ago
Reply to  fartinyourface

Same here. Once a position player comes in to pitch in a 13-1 game in the eighth inning, I’d rather simply leave and try to convince everyone else on my way out that they should leave, too.